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Exclusive: Erik Frenken is the new creative director of Zoe Karssen

By Caitlyn Terra


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The CV of designer Erik Frenken is not a brief one. He has his own fashion house, Frenken, received the Fashion Grant in 2019, was the head of Avelon, designed for Blue Blood, Alberta Ferretti and Viktor & Rolf to name a few. Recently, his resume gained another entry: Frenken exclusively reveals to FashionUnited that he is the new creative director for Zoe Karssen. We spoke to him about the move, his mission for the brand and the combination with his own fashion house.

Frenken has been with Zoe Karssen for just under two months when FashionUnited speaks to him by phone. His influence is first seen in the newest drop from the brand, which is available now. “I was approached to become the creative director. We had a few conversations and then I said yes”, he outlines. “I’ve always had respect and appreciation for any Dutch brand that develops and knows how to make things happen. So I always felt attracted to the look and feel of the brand.”

But why the decision to be at the head of two brands at the same time? “I’ve always done freelance work alongside my own brand, whether that was Avelon at the time or now with Frenken. Regarding my personal development, creative enrichment and network expansion, it's good not to get stuck in a rut”, Frenken explains. “However, my freelance work was often under the radar with a contract you can’t communicate about. This is the first time the press has been involved.” When he was asked for the job, a briefing came with it. Zoe Karssen was to focus on creativity, sustainability, quality and innovation. “When I saw the briefing, I understood why they asked me. It felt right, so I said yes.”

Creative director at two brands: Erik Frenken leads Zoe Karssen and Frenken

Zoe Karssen already underwent a relaunch without Frenken last September, so it is not the intention to suddenly change direction, the designer explains. "I didn't come in with the notion that everything goes dark and we will come back with the first results in three months”. In the conversation, Frenken indicates that the briefing he received and the press statement at the relaunch in September can be interpreted in several ways. "Adult, cool, fun, innovative, female sustainability - all important things. For me, the essence and most recognizable features at Zoe Karssen are the graphics and creativity. I take that as a starting point."

Those who remember the old Zoe Karssen may immediately think of the famous bat print, as well as slogan T-shirts and all-over prints. "I want to add a high level of creativity to the graphics," Frenken explains. "I always really like working with a process. You come up with a theme and within that theme you start researching, trying out different things and discovering coincidences. Step by step you develop the starting point for the season and create layers within that. So we're going to be very thematic with the graphics, but with a kind of edge and coolness that is also fun." The designer says his previous work was more serious, but that he also finds playing with a whimsical edge very interesting. "That can be in color, in materials, but also in styling." Ultimately, Zoe Karssen's collection should be a "full wardrobe," he points out. "From chic to street and from sweater to cocktail dress."

Frenken has a clear picture of his job at Zoe Karssen, but how does his new position go along with working for his own fashion house? "That's not very complicated, it's a matter of time management," he says calmly. The designer says that thanks to the Fashion Grant he received in 2019, he was able to make changes at his own fashion house that freed up space. He switched back from four collections to two per year and scaled back the number of showrooms he worked with. Because he shifted gears in 2019 and 90 percent of fashion house Frenken takes place in Portugal (everything except design and marketing), he was left with 70 percent more time. In the space created, the assignment for Zoe Karssen then came about, but still leaves him time to "look, think, recalibrate and enjoy the process”. Also, with both Frenken and Zoe Karssen, he makes sure he has as little work to do as possible. "I set the collection and go over quality, guarantee creativity and set the boundaries. I can focus purely on the communication, image creativity and the brand and its positioning. I establish these very clearly and the rest will follow."

When asked about the vision he has for Zoe Karssen, Frenken is very clear. "My job is to execute Zoe Karssen in the way that has been discussed from management. Within that framework I'm going to implement that as well as I can." The conversation turns to Frenken's working method and then the designer's passion almost radiates through the phone. "I focus on the process and on creativity. If you're only goal-oriented, you're really just taking away the sparkle and fun of things. You have to make sure that within a process you work with love and attention and that there is room for mistakes and experimenting. Once you are on the right track everyone gets a certain twinkle in their eye, and that is what I want to bring." It's this insight Frenken has gained through all his years of experience. "The real magic happens when you're relaxed. If all you're doing is saying, 'It's got to work,' then it doesn't. Then you forget the enjoyment and sparkle of it. You can't create the sparkle, it has to come into being. But you can create an environment for a sparkle to arise." According to Frenken, the difference between a really good brand and a brand that tries to present itself well, lies in the core. "The core has to be right and it has to come from love and passion. If everything is done with love, passion and attention, a true customer base is created. When that's right, marketing can go pop, sales can go pop, everything also becomes smooth and it also starts succeeding."

At the end of the conversation, one cannot help but conclude that Frenken is bursting with energy and passion, leaving yours truly with one more concluding statement: "Quality and love speaks for itself, then you don't need marketing anymore."

Read more about Zoe Karssen on the brand page: fashionunited.com/companies/zoe-karssen

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.nl. Translated and edited by Sonja-Maaria Nikula.

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